Think about your gut reaction to this one basic question: What makes you happy?
This is a reaction that is deep, self evident, and easily expressed. Something you don’t really have to think about -- reactions that come from the gut are beyond the questions.
The idea that our ‘second brain’ is in the gut is now embraced by medicine. The Johns Hopkins Medicine's website points out that "Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, this “brain in your gut” is revolutionizing medicine’s understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health and even the way you think.” So how does one tap into the wisdom of the gut?
Let’s take a minute to go back to the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda. The system of Ayurveda is a wellness science that is a sister science of Yoga. If Yoga is about checking in with your mind and body, then Ayurveda is the science of checking in with the wisdom or intelligence of our body that is nourished through food and other restorative and therapeutic practices that enhance life. The understanding of the kitchen being the center of your wellness regimen is part of your grandma’s repertoire of wellness. Choices that nurture speak to your gut and those that your gut is drawn to are interwoven deeply.
Ancient Indian folklore was not separated from the ideas of Ayurveda, and wove them into simple axioms such as “a happy, healthy individual is one whose belly is soft, feet are warm and the head cool.” Even western phrases, like “butterflies in the stomach” or “gut reaction”, point to the wisdom of the gut.
So if the crux of happiness lies in your stomach, then the natural question we can pose is this -how does the gut tune in to its wisdom?
Picture Ganesha, the elephant headed god who loves his food, with his abundant belly and his happy visage. Do you notice the serpent intertwined around his belly? The serpent in Indian mythology is a sign of awareness and alertness.
If your gut is alert and aware of the choices that your belly happily gravitates towards-- then that surely makes for a happy life.
A happy belly equals a happier you. Here are 5 simple ideas to awaken the intelligence of the gut from Ayurveda, one of the world’s oldest forms of medicine and wellness practices.
1. Eat according to your Dosha, or body type.
According to Ayurvedic principles, everyone has three energetic forces of nature, or doshas — pitta is the energy of digestion, vata is the energy of movement, and kapha is the energy of lubrication. When these three doshas are out of balance, it can wreak havoc on your health and wellness. Learn more about your Ayurvedic dosha or body constitution here. Each dosha responds to different wellness practices, so once you know your dosha, you can begin to make choices for a happier gut!
2. Eat according to the seasons.
The rhythmic cycle of the seasons affects the doshas, causing them to go out of whack. So making certain lifestyle choices, especially around how, when and what we consume, can help us keep our energies in balance. For example, in the winter months, we can all lean towards the heavier root vegetables to ground us. This becomes even more important for the Vata body types that have more of the space and air element and can become unsettled during cold and windy conditions. Spices that are warming are also encouraged during this season.
3. Eat locally and fresh whenever possible.
Your food should be nourishing and fresh -- a source of Prana, or life energy. Processed food that is neither fresh nor nutritious does not serve your belly or its happiness factor. The temporary surge of satisfaction is sure to be followed by a slump, and over time, can even cause feelings of depression -- which Ayurveda understands as a condition that occurs when your life force level is lowered. Food that is old is considered of a tamasic nature - causing similar qualities, like dullness and lethargy in a person, as opposed to sattvic, or fresh and locally and sustainably sourced food, cooked with mindfulness, which naturally causes an upsurge of energy and wellness. Kitchari is a one pot Ayurvedic dish that is deeply cleansing and nourishing, and high on the sattvic scale
4. Eat with awareness and presence, and also cook or source food that is made with joy and mindfulness.
Eating to the accompaniment of your TV or other media can hardly be beneficial. These days there is an active awareness-building movement bringing attention to the mental health of the food industry professionals that cook for us. In India, even today, many households have cooks that are called Maharaj - a title loosely translated, for want of a better word, to Lord. it bestows the highest honor on the person who cooks for the family. Prayers that bless the food we eat also traditionally include blessings for those involved in the cooking and the production of the food, like farmers and vendors. The basic Sanskrit prayer around food to bless and offer gratitude is “Annadata Sukhi Bhava”.
5. Observe how you feel after you eat.
It’s not just when you eat, but afterwards as well, that your awareness can either enhance or dull your digestion, impacting your feeling of wellness. In yogic literature, sitting in Vajrasana, or the thunderbolt pose, with your big right toe resting on your left toe after a meal, aids digestion, and ignites Agni, or the digestive fire. On the other hand, a cup of water gulped soon after you eat can put out the agni, or fire, that is critical to your food being digested efficiently. Optimally, a cup of warm or hot water, an hour after you eat, can enhance and aid the digestion process.
Ancient wisdom and modern science are singularly pointing towards the belly as the barometer of our happiness. Your gut never lies, and the stories of the gut are the ones that are the most meaningful. If your experience of food is less than joyful, it can hardly be nourishing. Depriving oneself of the flavors one craves can also be counterproductive.
This harmonious balance is a symphony that is tuned with the innate wisdom of Yoga and Ayurveda. Ayurveda hones in on the intelligence of the whole body, illuminating your Yoga practice as well. It is a vibrant and uniquely customized practice for each individual, and is more than just a way of treating illness; it is a science of life that happily comes alive in a joyful vibrant belly.The life force or energy of food that has nourishing prana speaks to our brain, resulting in a deep-rooted sense of wellness. I am thinking of Ganesha rubbing his belly; even if he has been a trifle indulgent, and his mindful wisdom emanating joyfully from his belly!